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Oklahoma DHS promises to do better job of informing public

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater says he still has concerns after getting complaints that DHS violated Open Meeting Act.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Published: September 14, 2011
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DHS officials have told Oklahoma County's top prosecutor they have not violated the state Open Meeting Act, but they promised to “do an even better job” of informing the public.

“We do not believe there have been any violations of the Open Meeting Act and certainly no blatant disregard of law,” wrote Charles Waters, the general counsel of the Department of Human Services.

District Attorney David Prater in August called for an explanation from DHS after getting complaints about meetings of the commissioners who oversee the agency.

Prater said Tuesday he still has concerns.

He said he specifically continues to be concerned about the DHS commission's use of committees that hear matters in private.

Prater said, “No final determination has been made whether the DHS commission violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act or not.”

Misdemeanor offense

A willful violation of the act is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a year in the county jail.

Prater met Friday with DHS Director Howard Hendrick, DHS Chairman Richard DeVaughn and Waters.

The commission is made up of nine members. It has a budget committee, a rules committee and a facilities committee.

In testimony for a lawsuit over foster care, DeVaughn has admitted limiting membership on committees to four and under to avoid having to comply with the Open Meeting Act.

“I don't think that's the only reason, but that is a — a good reason,” DeVaughn testified.

“Committees meet sometimes hastily to discuss property matters or others, and to conform to the Open Meeting Act, it would be a pretty onerous task.”

In his Aug. 12 letter, Prater told DHS that he had heard complaints about the committees from one commissioner, Steven Dow, of Tulsa. Prater wrote Dow asserted the law was purposely being violated by the creation of these committees to discuss budget items and other matters.

No decisions made

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